- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Now firmly ensconced in its once and future home, the renovated Source theater space on 14th Street Northwest, the In Series opened its latest intriguing revue, “Berliner Kabarett,” on Saturday for a nearly one-month run.

Throughout its peripatetic life, the In Series essentially has patented the modern cabaret-type show in the D.C. area, bringing to its eclectic mix of song and soft-shoe a welcome bit of historical and literary perspective that seems to have been lost over the past century or so, to our collective cultural detriment.

An In Series cabaret is generally set in Europe after the devastation of World War I, a time when the shattered continent tried to pick up the pieces and move on with its life. Each show consists of a thematically linked set of songs, loosely connected by a minimalist script or concept and brought to life by a small cast of singers accompanied by minimal instrumentation, in this case the excellent pianist Alice Mikolajewski, who also serves as the evening’s music director.

“Berliner Kabarett” adheres to this tried-and-true formula but proves a bit edgier than many previous shows. Set in a Berlin bar-bordello in the early 1930s, the two-act program is presented as a slice of life involving four characters: Sally (Sally Martin), the establishment’s world-weary owner and madame; two tawdry, unnamed barmaids (Tara McCredie and Emily Levey) whose main income-making clearly occurs behind the stage curtain; and two dissolute soldiers, the younger played by Ashley Ivey, the older by Jim Scopeletis.

Worn out, cynical, jaded and fed up with the apparent meaninglessness of their lives, the characters break out into solo and ensemble numbers from the period that grasp the era’s feral decadence and despair.

“Berliner Kabarett” recycles some musical favorites from earlier In Series shows, such as “Lili Marlene,” one of Marlene Dietrich’s signature songs. But this iteration goes heavy on acidic musical commentaries from the Kurt Weill-Berthold Brecht era that underscore the hopelessness that encouraged the rise of Europe’s most brutal modern dictatorship. Weill’s relentless, pounding rhythms and odd choral combinations give heft to the lyrics of Brecht and occasionally others as they explore the depersonalization of Everyman — often through a scarcely veiled Marxist determinism that sets the table for revolution and dictatorship.

The cast does a fine job of selling the era in this intimate production. Particularly notable were performances of the aforementioned “Lili Marlene” by Mr. Scopeletis and Miss Levey and of Frederick Hollander’s classic “Falling in Love Again” by Miss Martin. Miss Ivey also did a buffo job re-enacting Adolf Hitler’s diatribe against dadaism, cubism and futurism.

Other show highlights included the surprisingly moving Hugo Wolf-Eduard Morike “Prayer,” sung by Mr. Scopeletis; Hollander’s unpleasant ballad “Sex Appeal,” performed by Miss McCredie, and his “Lola,” sung by the female cast members; and the opening Weill “Berlin in Light,” sung by the entire cast.

★★

WHO: In Series

WHAT: “Berliner Kabarett”

WHERE: Source, 1835 14th St. NW

WHEN: April 10, 11, 24 and May 2 at 8 p.m.; April 19 and 25 at 3 p.m.

TICKETS: 202/204-7760 or visit www.inseries.org.

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